March 02, 2013
Did a Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint — not Kandinsky — invent abstract painting?
You be the judge.
The exhibition includes almost 200 pieces, including pre-1910 abstract paintings.
Wrote Clemens Bomsdorf in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, "The Russian Wassily Kandinsky and a few others were the first to show such works in public in late 1911 and 1912, according to Leah Dickerman, who curated "Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925,' currently at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The Biographical Dictionary website credits Kandinsky with 'painting the first modern abstract works.'"
So who is this Hilma af Klint, all of a sudden appearing as if out of nowhere?
Below, excerpts from Bomsdorf's story which will fill in the blanks.
Who created the first abstract painting?
Some scholars are saying an obscure Swedish artist, left out of the MoMA exhibition and catalog, should get the credit. The artist, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), is being given a solo show at Stockholm's renowned Moderna Museet.
"Art history has to be rewritten," says art historian Julia Voss in the light of af Klint's show, which includes almost 200 works, including pre-1910 abstract paintings. For Ms. Voss, af Klint's early works undermine the claims that Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, Kazimir Malevich, and others were the pioneers.
Not so, says Ms. Dickerman, the curator of the MoMA exhibition. Af Klint "painted in isolation and did not exhibit her works, nor did she participate in public discussions of that time." In the exhibition Ms. Dickerman tries to show that there wasn't just one pioneering abstract work, but several evolved around the same time and were first shown at the end of 1911. Ms. Dickerman defends her decision to exclude af Klint: "I find what she did absolutely fascinating, but am not even sure she saw her paintings as art works."
A huge af Klint canvas from 1907, hanging in the Moderna Museet, features circular lines and rectangular shapes filled with various colors on a rose background. "The Ten Largest, No. 10," as the work is called, is clearly abstract. The show ends May 26.
The daughter of a naval captain, af Klint early showed interests both in painting and mysticism, participating in séances before she was 20. She painted in a naturalistic style in the late 19th century and made friends with a group who made contact during séances with gifted "high masters," who she believed dictated some of her paintings.
Af Klint ordered her abstract paintings hidden from the public until 20 years after her death [in 1944]; she believed that only then would viewers understand them. She did allow exhibitions of her naturalistic works — for example, in a 1911 show at Stockholm's Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
She remains more or less unknown to the international art world, while last fall a Kandinsky fetched $23 million, a record for the artist, at Christie's in New York.
Iris Müller-Westermann, curator of af Klint's solo show at the Moderna Museet, thinks af Klint deserves to be mentioned alongside Kandinsky and his fellows. "The male-dominated world of that time did deny that women could be creative, but she did create something new," she says.
But Felix Krämer, who heads the modern-art department at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, says that "it is not productive to rewrite art history every week. Art history is not a competition" where it only counts to be first. He stresses that there might have been painters working abstractly before af Klint. Ms. Müller-Westermann notes that, in contrast to Kandinsky, af Klint neither taught abstraction nor exhibited her abstract works, and because of this could not influence her peers.
"When is a painting abstract?" asks Mr. Krämer. "Every portrait with a golden background is, in a way, abstract."
March 2, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink
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